I was blessed with a tall, slender physique, good health, and generally attractive looks until my late fifties. Besides the usual niggling complaints about this or that feature we all tend to have, all was well, or at least good enough. Plastic surgery never occurred to me. But in my late fifties, my chin started a landslide which soon covered the front of my neck in a big flap of sagging skin. That one small but prominent feature added 10 years and 10 pounds to my appearance. It became the first thing about my body I’d ever truly loathed. I couldn’t afford plastic surgery here in the U.S., but I’d been to Costa Rica when my brother went there for dental surgery. The facilities were very impressive. After some research, I focused on Dr. Alejandro Lev’s website, Eternally Vain, because it had the most thorough, complete information. I also liked that he had a U.S.-based coordinator, Didi.
If you have never been to Costa Rica, be assured that it’s a beautiful country with excellent medical care and friendly people. I traveled there in September 2014 for a lower facelift with Dr. Lev, and could not be more pleased with the results. Dr. Lev and his anesthesiologist, have been practice partners for decades. So you have the advantage of an experienced team. According to scuttlebutt from those who should know (other patients who’ve had previous procedures), Drs. Lev performs only one surgery a day. Contrast this with a well-known clinic in San Jose, established perhaps 30 years ago, whose four or five surgeons each perform at least one surgery per day. Their prices supposedly are a little lower because of this high-volume approach.
You will certainly save money having plastic surgery in Costa Rica compared to the U.S., but don’t take you economizing too far when it comes to picking a surgeon. I was happy to pay a little more for a less hurried approach, in which I’d be treated as a person, not a procedure. Both Drs. Lev and his anesthesiologist are warm and personable. While explaining procedures, they offer reassurance with a gentle occasional touch on the arm or hand, or shoulder. They take time to chat. There is never the slightest sense of time pressure. Despite decades of experience, they still appear to genuinely enjoy what they do and the patients they meet. I haven’t seen such enthusiasm in the hurried, overworked doctors of the U.S.
Dr. Lev recommended a full facelift and a chin implant for me. I opted instead for just a lower facelift and chin implant. I was satisfied with my nose, eyes, and forehead. I also chose to have the surgery at a clinic, rather than in Cima Hospital. That saved me a couple of thousand dollars. The clinic had recently been renovated. I figured if it met Dr. Lev’s requirements, it certainly was good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed. It was spotless and the nurses all were friendly in a genuinely caring way. For the day and night, I spent there after surgery, I wasn’t alone for a minute. If I even stirred, someone appeared immediately to ask if I was thirsty, was I in pain, did I need anything? I felt very safe and cared for. If you’ve never had a facelift, the idea of pain might disturb you. None of it was painful, but often it was very uncomfortable, even miserable. But the worst of it is over in a week or so. More than pain pills, you’ll want sleeping pills. These are essential, even for someone like me who had never taken one before. You must sleep on your back for two weeks and your head is so swollen and sore it’s very hard to get comfortable. Plan on doing a lot of reading or online cruising, because you won’t feel able to be up and about much.
You’ll feel best the day after you return from surgery and think, “That wasn’t so bad.” Over the next few days, swelling and bruising appear. My face looked like a water balloon about to pop, with lips like sausages. My hair was full of big dried clots of blood stuck into it that couldn’t be washed out for several days. These begin to smell bad and if you’re outdoors, like on a patio, gnats and no-see-ums begin to pester you. This was the miserable part. But then the bandages come off. The hair can be wetted and gently soaped (not scrubbed) to loosen the dried blood. The swelling went down and the appetite began to come back.
At my final appointment with Dr. Lev, when he was going to remove the last of the stitches, he came into his office waiting room and saw me sitting on the couch flipping through a magazine. I looked up at him, saw him looking at me, and heard my escort tell him, “That’s Linda.” He had not recognized me! This was not a ploy. His work on my chin and neck had made such a huge difference in my appearance it was astounding. He and I both were thrilled. My family and friends are amazed and happy with the results. Those who don’t know I had a facelift ask me if I’ve lost weight and tell me I look really good. I will be happy every day with what Dr. Lev achieved. It has restored my confidence, rekindled my enthusiasm for socializing, and spurred a renewed push professionally. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
WHERE TO STAY
Originally, I intended to stay at a place about half an hour outside of San Jose that offered a dozen or so individual guest cottages, each decorated with a theme and situated on 80 acres of farm and forest. But I finally chose Casa Mercedes because it was $30 a day less expensive, only one block from Dr. Lev’s office and offered all the other services: rides to and from the airport and the doctor appointments, three meals a day, free wi-fi, free phone calls home and a private bedroom. The hostess, Mercedes Castro, has years of experience running a much larger surgical recovery resort spa. Wanting less of a workload, she renovated her personal home and now accepts up to three patients at a time, all from Dr. Lev.
Patients are welcome to wander at will through the living room, dining area and back-yard patio, where breakfast and lunch are served. Each bedroom has a TV and there’s a big one in the living room as well, with a DVD player and a stack of DVDs. We passed one night enjoying “Casablanca.” When you feel well enough, you can walk one block to a big shopping plaza with a grocery, a book store (that has a small English selection), clothes and jewelry shops, ice cream, restaurants, a pharmacy – anything you might need. The neighborhood is pleasant, quiet and safe. You can even walk a mile or so past the national stadium to a huge, popular park to watch joggers, dog walkers, picnics and soccer games.
Dr. Lev’s office is in that plaza, which is very convenient. Sometimes he’d call and say he’d had a cancellation, so did I want to come over right then or wait until my appointment several hours later? Mercedes serves very healthful meals. Every breakfast features a big platter of fresh tropical fruits – mango, papaya, pineapple and maybe some strawberries or melon. Along with that she’ll serve eggs, pancakes, French toast or cereal. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, with a bit of chicken, fish or beef, a salad, rice and beans and a vegetable. Dinner is light, maybe soup and bread or a salad. There is no dessert, but you can always stash something in your room. The coffee is excellent and she has a large assortment of teas. She has wine, but most people aren’t in the mood for it, what with the pain killers and antibiotics. Mercedes has traveled over more of the U.S. than I have, is fluent in English and her standards for customer service would please anyone. She came home one day with a big wedge-shaped pillow I could use for sitting up, laying back or even propping up my legs. When the fan in my room failed to do more than blow stuffy air around, she bought a table-top air conditioner that I could sit right next to the bed.
Customers at Casa Mercedes get lots of personal, caring attention from someone very experienced with surgical recovery patients. However, some people may prefer more of a hotel experience. There is no restaurant kitchen at Mercedes’ house, so you can’t order whatever you want and eat on your own schedule. If you have very special requests, such as a gluten-free diet, you might need to bring a lot of stuff with you. And even then, it’s an imposition. Mercedes and her housekeeper serve customers the same meals they fix for themselves, not different meals for different people. That’s not to say they’re inflexible. When I couldn’t get more than a straw through my lips, she made me protein shakes or fruit smoothies for a couple of days.
They are good cooks. The portions are enough to satisfy, not stuff, and the food is fresh, with lots of fruit, juice and produce. Between your reduced post-surgery appetite and Mercedes’ healthful meals, you’ll probably lose a couple of pounds without any effort or sacrifice. And finally, word must be included of Bobby, a small white poodle. He’s the resident “therapy” dog. He’s quiet, well-mannered and loves to jump up on a bed for a snooze with anyone who will pet him a bit. For those missing a dog back home, Bobby was a welcome antidote.